Business intelligence solutions a top priority for NZ businesses
User case studies from Otago Polytechnic, The Crane Group and Meridian Energy
By Ulrika Hedquist, Auckland | Wednesday, 19 September, 2012
New Zealand respondents to IDC's 2012 Continuum study – which surveys CIOs and IT managers in Asia-Pacific excluding Japan – rated ‘Implement/Improve/Increase investments in Business Intelligence/Analytics/Big Data’ as the top priority for software investment over the next 12 months, says IDC New Zealand senior consultant Liam Gunson.
Another survey, IDC's 2012 CIO survey, found that local organisations rated ‘Organising and utilising data/business intelligence to improve business decision making’ as being the second most common ICT priority behind ‘Improve or simplify IT Infrastructure’, Gunson says.
The top reason for investing in BI is to focus on competitive advantage – 36 percent of respondents in the 2012 CIO survey said so. Twenty-nine percent listed revenue growth as a key reason.
“However, looking across our various survey work and from anecdotal evidence in the market, it does appear that some other IT projects such as virtualisation and infrastructure consolidation do take a lot of mindshare with BI and ‘big data’ being talked about after these,” says Gunson.
The main hurdles to uptake of BI solutions among local organisations include increasing costs associated with supporting new functionality; performance issues with the end user tools; and issues with the quality of the underlying data, according to IDCs Contiuum study.
Three New Zealand organisations that have adopted business intelligence solutions talk about role-based reporting; simulating the future; and the importance of knowing your own data.
Otago Polytechnic has had a Microsoft SQL server stack and Wherescape RED solution in place for two years now. Previously, data was kept in various spreadsheets and reports were taken out of the main system, says Gayle Reihana, BI data analyst developer at Otago Polytechnic.
“One person would go and do a report on their figures, and then someone else would do a report, but their figures wouldn’t match,” she says. “It was becoming increasingly nightmarish trying to get figures that people really believed in.”
The organisation started to do more data analysis work to understand and work better with stakeholders, such as the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC), she says.
“We got to a point where we started to understand the data but now we wanted to be able to disseminate that data out to the rest of the organisation, where staff could access it and use it,” she says.
Otago Polytechnic chose to go with Microsoft for a couple of reasons and because it is an educational institute, the licensing cost was reasonable.
“Microsoft had all these solutions that we felt that we could use, and that we could afford – because for us, every dollar counts,” she says.
The institute had already put a lot of work into building a SharePoint environment, and the team was using SQL.
“We had little elements of [Microsoft] around – we felt that if we pulled in the full BI stack, it would pull things together.”
The final decision came after a meeting with the CEO of the polytechnic, says Reihana. He said he wanted to be able to go to one place, and with the click of the mouse be able to drill down for more information and follow a thread through. She said: “I know how to give you that – when do you want it by and is there a budget for it?”
Wellington-based consultancy Intergen helped implement the solution, which went smoothly, according to Reihana. The solution was built into the current data system.
“We were very clear on what we wanted the outcome of the solution to be,” she says. “And we managed to keep costs down because we didn’t need Intergen to do all the data analysis – we already knew our data and we just needed them to pull it all together.”
After all the potential she had seen in the data, it was “really cool” to actually be in the position of being able to deliver it to the business, she says.
A vital part of the solution was the development of a centralised portal, where staff from the different schools can go to generate reports. The student management system, financial system and HR system all use the same technology, so a report from the portal looks exactly the same as a report from within each particular system, says Reihana.
“For users, it’s seamless – they don’t need to be aware of where the data is actually coming from. It’s just making it really simple for users to go to one place and get what they need. They don’t care where the data comes from; they care that it’s accurate and true, and they are really trusting the data now.”
Reihana has been with Otago Polytechnic for 15 years and says it’s a huge move forward that people now are trusting the data.
Users can change views and add new factors into their analysis, for example to see how age group, ethnicity and previous education relate to students’ performance, she says. And they can do it all themselves, without the need for a programmer, she adds. Previously, people from different business areas would be trying to get the same data, all starting from scratch, unaware of each other.
“They were all doing the same work to pull this data together. It was a huge waste of resources. All the data is now there for them, in the format they need, and time can be spent on making the decisions.”
The BI system also helps the polytechnic provide accurate and more meaningful information to stakeholders, in particular TEC.
“We are in a really exciting position now,” says Reihana. “We are putting together what we call an ‘annual report card’.”
This is a single, four-page report that will contain financial data, staff data, performance education data and research data – pulling information from five or six key systems and giving a snapshot of each school at the end of the year.
“You can then drill down for the full details,” she says.
It was a challenge to move to the new reporting platform, she says, but working with Intergen helped. “They knew the technology and we knew our data so well – the combination gave us the best of everything.”
The fact that the polytechnic had done all the data analysis prior to implementing made a big difference, she says.
“It’s important not to think that the solution will answer all your data questions. If you are trying to get someone in to also help you understand your data, that’s a huge job,” she says. “If you’ve got problems with your data, or if you don’t understand it, that is a separate piece of work – do that first!”
Reihana and her team are now working together with a group of other Polytechs to develop shared initiatives.
“We’ve shown them our portal and they are really excited about the potential of it.”
The goal is to save each institution trying to go and do the same thing, as well as getting early insights and sharing each other’s journeys, she says.
The Crane Group
The Crane Group, a division of Fletcher Building, uses an Oracle BI system for operational reporting, particularly dashboards and free-form reports, says Paul Poree, group manager of applications support at Crane Group.